“Frustration, although quite painful at times, is a very positive and essential part of success.” Bo Bennett
“Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is iess cleaning up to do afterward.” Kurt Vonnegut
I have always tried to make the most of opportunities. These opportunities have sometimes involved great challenges and I have persisted: spending untold hours conducting research; overcoming obstacles of certification, qualification, and verification; creating detailed work plans with specific tasks or time frames; etc.
Last week, after spending over twenty hours of work on a proposal, I was unable to submit it.
The proposal was to design and deliver: a one-day customer service training for 142 staff in sessions of 10-15 participants; a two-day customer service training for 28 managers; and a four- day train-the-trainer program to teach 8 internal training staff how to facilitate both customer service training programs.
Designing and delivering customer service and train-the-trainer programs are services I have often provided and I can do them very well. I was excited by this opportunity, until I was confronted with the specific logistical requirements.
Although all training was to be completed within one year, a detailed work plan for three years was required. This entailed anticipating possible turnover and the resulting need for additional training programs. There was no guidance provided regarding what turnover was likely to occur.
There was also no guidance regarding how many programs could be conducted at one time- nor how many would be conducted at each of the two possible cities where the training programs might be held.
My company had to be certified as a vendor for the state in question. This certification process involved many steps made more difficult by the fact that a promised password was not delivered for two weeks. We also had to submit a specific letter attesting to sufficient liability insurance.
Finally, we had to provide a fixed price quote that included all travel costs for all three years to the two possible locations, as well as the printing and mailing costs for all training materials- without knowing how many training sessions would actually be needed.
Despite these seemingly insurmountable challenges, I persevered. I finally completed the technical and cost proposals the night before the proposal was due. Ready to celebrate and relax, I checked to see where to email the proposal.
And that is when my heart almost stopped. I was not allowed to email the proposal. Instead, three copies of the proposal and a thumb drive had to be mailed. I was in Wisconsin and the proposal had to be received in Maine no later than 2 pm the next day,
I had been so focused on meeting the proposal requirements that I had not bothered to double check how it had to be delivered. In my defense, all other proposals I had submitted until then had required only email submittal.
I quickly called my local Fed Ex, only to find out that their last shipment had already left. There was absolutely no way for me to meet the deadline.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I wrote to the contracting officer asking if a one day extension was possible. The answer was “no.”
I won’t begin to tell you how upset I was that night. It was not just that all my work had been for naught. When I work on a proposal, all other aspects of my life (eating, sleeping, exercising, socializing, cat cuddling, laundry, food shopping, etc.) are placed on hold.
I was very angry that night: at the mailing requirement, at all the time and effort wasted, and at myself for not paying attention.
The next morning, although sorry, I calmly accepted the reality of the situation. I felt proud that I had completed the impossibly-demanding proposal. And I came to some very important conclusions:
- Just because I can, it doesn’t mean I should. Just because I pride myself on my curriculum design and training delivery doesn’t mean that I should always try to get the work.
- When the requirements are so vague, it is likely that any proposal I submit would leave me at a disadvantage, both in terms of time and costs.
- When there are so many unknowns (the number and locations of the training sessions, the amount of training materials required, the printing and mailing costs for those materials, and the number of trips to conduct the training sessions), there is no point to guessing.
- When it is likely that there are other vendors much closer to the state, their travel costs would be much less than mine, so my proposal would be more expensive.
- Rather than simply writing down the due date for a proposal, I need to note how the proposal needs to be delivered and factor in any mailing time.
- Finally, if a proposal is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to write, I should set it aside. That doesn’t make me a quitter. It just makes me a realist.
There is a saying: “I grow too soon old, but too late smart.”
In the coming year, I plan to grow older by another year. I also plan to “work smarter, not harder” and make sure that I take time to live my life as fully as possible.
May your new year be all that you hope and want it to be.
Tips will resume on January 9, 2017.
May your learning be sweet.